Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—“That’s a mortal sin.” And there have been reportedly others before that.

A Catholic bishop called for the filing of charges against the people behind the scuttled purchase by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of ballot secrecy folders for the May elections because of the huge amount that would have cost taxpayers.

“P700 million! Wow! Prosecute the culprits. That’s a mortal sin,” said Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan called for the resignation of Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino, who reportedly endorsed the award of the contract to OTC Paper Supply for the purchase of the secrecy folders at P380 each.

The senator said Tolentino should step down for the latter’s alleged “continued involvement in different electoral anomalies.”

It was the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC) that recommended the awarding of the contract to OTC.

BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon said the recommendation was based on the specifications approved by the poll body’s en banc.

The BAC members are Allen Francis Abaya, Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

The Comelec had initially planned to buy 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders worth P380 each, a contract worth nearly P700 million.

But on Monday the Comelec en banc scrapped the purchase of the folders after finding the price of each folder to be extravagant.

The Comelec has decided that it would just use the less expensive regular folders to help voters shield their ballots from prying eyes.

It has ordered an investigation of the case.

In a statement, Pangilinan cited two other controversial cases in which Tolentino had alleged involvement—the “scandalous” Mega-Pacific consortium and his “puzzling refusal to purge zombie registrants.”

“And his name figures prominently in this recent fiasco regarding the P700 million folders,” the senator said.

Mega-Pacific won the P1.2-billion contract to supply counting machines for the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court nullified the contract, but the Comelec had already paid the company a huge amount for the machines which remain unused.

Pangilinan said it was a wonder why Tolentino was still with the Comelec.

“Too much is at stake for our country to entrust its hope for a better future in inept leadership within the Comelec. This is precisely the kind of corruption that we’d like to put an end to after the elections. Let’s start now. Tolentino should resign. Our people deserve better,” Pangilinan said.

He said the Comelec could not afford to have lapses of judgment “this late and crucial part in the ball game.”

“The Comelec’s handling of the country’s first ever automated election leaves a lot to be desired based on what we’ve seen and heard. The last thing the Commission needs is to be embroiled in a graft and corruption controversy,” Pangilinan said.

The Comelec should also disclose the amount it had paid for other election paraphernalia, according to Renato Reyes of the election watchdog group Kontra Daya.

Reyes said the poll body might have bought overpriced items in the past based on the reasons that one of its officials gave for the initial approval of the purchase of the secrecy folders.

Reyes said the statement of the BAC chair that the P380 price tag was “reasonable,” because the Comelec had bought P320 binders in the past, just exposed its penchant for buying costly items.

Alarkon had noted that the binders were half the size of the ballot secrecy folders, and that P380 was the median price.

“This shows that the overpricing of paraphernalia has been going on for a long time under the nose of the Comelec,” Reyes said.

In the interest of transparency, the Comelec should also disclose how much it is paying or will be paying for other election paraphernalia, such as the indelible ink, ballots and ballot boxes, Reyes said.

The Comelec’s citizens’ arm, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said there should be a thorough probe of the processes that led to the initial decision to buy the expensive secrecy folders.

“Each resolution and each recommendation of the different departments must be examined very well because it could have been an oversight, but still the fact is it will cost the government so much,” PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said in an interview over Radio Veritas.

De Villa also said reports that there was incomplete staff work on the documents for the purchase of the folders should also be looked into.

“Any kind of staff work must always be efficient and complete. The commissioners, they rely on the work of the staff that when it’s presented to them it has already been fully prepared and scrutinized,” she said.

Malacañang said it would monitor the result of the investigation by the Comelec.

“Let us not distrust the Comelec just because of this issue. There are bigger issues that the Comelec is attending to and I think they’re doing very well,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza told reporters. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.